Plants and Recipes

When 16th century European explorers came to the Americas they discovered new foods being raised by the natives – corn and squashes.  The many varieties of squash were first called pumpions by the English explorers, the word for melon which to them this crop most closely resembled.   Later on, the English adopted the Massachusetts Indian word for this highly – productive vine plant, askutasquash.  Pumpkin is a delicious-tasting winter squash.   Don't be confused by the words pumpkin and winter squash.  They can be used interchangeably in nearly all recipes.  All winter squash have a rich flavor, high nutrient content, long storage capability, variety, and versatility.

Pumpkins grow in the field on plants that have long sprawling vines that cover the ground.  Pumpkin seeds are planted in the middle of June.  After the seeds are planted they will germinate in 5-7 days, depending upon the variety.  During this time, seeds require ample moisture and warmth.  Once seeds have sprouted, they will send up their first leaves, called seed leaves.

Next, the adult true leaves will develop.  Yellow blossoms begin to appear after the first three weeks of growth.   Male flowers, which produce pollen, appear first.  About a week later, the female blossoms appear. They are easy to see because they have tiny pumpkins at their base following pollination.  Amazingly, female blossoms survive for only one-half day, and will not open in cold, rainy weather.  When both male and female blossoms are present on the vine, bees transfer the pollen from the male blossoms to the female blossoms. This process is called pollination

Once pollinated, the fruit at the base of the female blossom develops into a full-sized pumpkin.  During this time, the plant continues to produce blossoms.  The pumpkin contains seeds that can be saved to grow new pumpkins the following year, although new seeds are typically purchased from a commercial supplier.  While growing, pumpkins require substantial moisture and sunlight.  Depending upon the variety, it takes about 90-120 days for a pumpkin to fully develop into an adult fruit after planting.  While growing, pumpkins are green in color. They turn the familiar bright orange after reaching full maturity.

Pumpkin and Squash Varieties

are large, hard-skinned, ribbed orange pumpkins that carve well for Jack-o-lanterns. They are not good for eating as they are stringy and tasteless.

Sugars  Sugars
are small, round orange pumpkins with stout stems and slightly sweet flesh. They can be used for cooking, but the texture is stringy.

Hubbards  Hubbards
are large, gray-blue squash with very hard skin.  They have a pleasant old-fashioned flavor which is well-suited for soups, stuffings and stews.

are flamboyantly colored and good to eat.  They are creamy, moist, bland, and somewhat fibrous.   They make nice centerpieces and fine additions to fall meals.

Buttercups  Buttercups
are medium-sized, drum-shaped squash with a "beanie" on bottom, generally dark green spotted or striped with gray.  They are very flavorful, rich and sweet.

Jack-Be-Littles  Jack-Be-Littles
are tangerine-sized, sweet tasting and flavorful mini-pumpkins.

Sweet Dumplings  
are small, green and white striped squash with golden, fine-grained, sweet pulp.

Spaghetti Squashes  
are cream or yellow, watermelon-shaped squash containing bland, crisp, lightly sweet strands that resemble spaghetti in size and shape.

Crook-necked Pumpkins  
have a smooth tan skin with a long neck and a bulbous end containing the seeds.  They have a flavorful taste and are the easiest variety for food preparation.

Nutrition and Storage

All types of winter squash are excellent sources of vitamin A and have substantial amounts of vitamin C, iron and potassium.  They are low in sodium and modest in calories, averaging between 40-80 calories for a 4 oz. serving. Winter squash are usually a good source of fiber.

Uncut winter squash keeps best in a dry, well-ventilated room with temperatures between 50-55F.  Attics or garages are good places to store squash.  Do not refrigerate because humidity and extreme cold hasten decay.  At room temperature, 70F, the storage time is only a few weeks.   Properly stored, winter squash will keep for months.


Winter squash have a tough outer skin or shell which is often hard to cut. Use a heavyweight, sharp knife and stick into the squash.  Pounding with a mallet at the base of the knife helps to crack open the squash.  The skin can be softened by placing the squash in a microwave for 1-2 minutes on high setting.  Let stand for a couple of minutes before cutting.   Baking a squash whole and cutting it open when fork tender is another option.   For crook-necked pumpkins, cut off the bulbous end with seeds.  Tightly cover the rest of pumpkin with plastic wrap and refrigerate until next use.  Skin may be removed with a potato peeler prior to cooking or by leaving skin on and scooping pumpkin from skin shell after cooking.

Cooking and Eating

Bake:  Cut squash in half, remove seeds and oil cut surface.  Place cut sides down in baking dish in a 350F oven and begin testing for doneness after 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Steam:  Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and place in saucepan with enough water to steam and begin testing for doneness after 20-30 minutes.

Microwave:  Cut squash in half length-wise and remove seeds.  For crook-necked pumpkin, cut neck into 1" slices.  Put squash side up and cover dish with plastic wrap.  Cook 10-12 minutes, rotating dish after 5 minutes.  Let stand for 5 minutes after cooking.

If squash is cooked whole, use a spoon to scoop flesh from skin – a serrated grapefruit spoon works well. At this point, the squash is an excellent vegetable served as you prefer with salt, pepper, butter, brown sugar, grated cheese, soy sauce or other seasonings.

Prepared Pumpkin:Use a strainer, food mill, or food processor to puree the cooked squash/pumpkin. This makes a smooth pulp prepared for use in recipes. Unused prepared pumpkin can be refrigerated or frozen for future use in casseroles, soups, muffins, pies, etc. Freeze in specific quantities to be used in your favorite recipes.

Squash Seeds:Remove the seeds from the pumpkin fibers with water and put on paper towel to drain. Put seeds into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon oil with salt or soy sauce to taste for each cup of seeds. Toss seeds until lightly coated. Lightly oil a baking sheet and spread the seeds in a single layer. Bake at 250F stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Try pumpkin with your favorite recipes:
    1/2 cup prepared pumpkin added to your basic pancake batter
    1 cup prepared pumpkin and cinnamon to taste added to your
         favorite blueberry muffin recipe
    1 cup prepared pumpkin and cinnamon to taste added to your favorite nut bread recipe

Favorite Recipes

My Grandma's Pumpkin Pie
   1 1/2 cup prepared pumpkin
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon flour
    3 beaten eggs
    1 cup milk
    1 tablespoon butter
    9" pie crust

Put prepared pumpkin in mixing bowl.  Combine the sugar and flour.  Add sugar mixture to the pumpkin.   Add the eggs and milk to the pumpkin mixture.  Melt butter till it browns and add to the pumpkin mixture.  Pour the mixture into the pie crust.  Sprinkle cinnamon on the top.  Bake at 400F for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350F until pie is firm.  Excellent with honey or molasses on top of a slice of pie.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
   2 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
    1/4 cup melted butter
    2 8oz. package light cream cheese
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 cup prepared pumpkin
    3 eggs
    3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Crumble wafers and melted butter together for the crust and press into 9" springform pan.  Combine cheese, sugar and vanilla.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well.  Add pumpkin and spices to mixture and mix well.  Pour over crust.  Bake at 350F for approximately 55 minutes.  Remove from oven and loosen rim but cool fully before removing rim.   Chill.  Serves 10-12 people.

Pumpkin Roll
    3 eggs
   1 cup sugar
    2/3 cup pumpkin
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    3/4 cup flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 teaspoon ginger
    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup walnut, chopped finely (optional)
    Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 375F. In mixing bowl beat eggs for 3 minutes on high speed; add sugar and mix well. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice. In separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread in greased and floured 15 by 10 inch jelly-roll pan. Top with walnuts. (optional)   Bake for 15 minutes. Turn out cake onto clean dish towel and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Roll towel and cake together. Let cool completely. Unroll and spread cream cheese filling over cake. Roll up and chill again.

   1 cup confectioners' sugar
    4 tablespoons of butter or margarine
    6 oz. cream cheese
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat until well mixed. Spread on cooled cake as described above.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake
    1 cup less 2 tablespoons of oil
    2 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    2 cup prepared pumpkin
    1 cup nuts, pecan or walnuts (optional)
    6 oz. chocolate chips
    2 cups flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. In separate bowl, mix oil, sugar, eggs, pumpkin and vanilla. Blend with dry ingredients. Add chopped nuts and chocolate chips. Pour into 9 by 13 inch baking pan. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until done. Frost with cream cheese frosting or chocolate frosting. Cake freezes beautifully.

Pumpkin Soup
   1 large onion
    1/4 cup butter
    1/2 teaspoon curry powder
    2 cup prepared pumpkin
    1 1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 cup heavy cream
    2 1/2 cup chicken stock

Sauté onion and butter.  Add curry powder.  Heat together pumpkin, salt, cream, chicken stock and onion mixture.   Serve warm.  Looks festive when served in a hollowed-out pumpkin.  Serves six.

Savory Squash Casserole
   3 cup prepared winter squash
    1/4 cup lowfat yogurt
    3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    1 teaspoon basil, oregano or parsley to taste
    Ground black pepper to taste
    2 tablespoon onion or green pepper, minced and sautéed
    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    2 eggs beaten
    Topping of sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Combine all ingredients and place in greased quart casserole.  Top with sunflower or sesame seeds.  Place casserole dish in a pan with about 2 inches of water.  Bake in oven at 350F for about 45-50 minutes, or until firm in the center.  Serves six.

Almond-Stuffed Squash
   3 small winter squash (halved and seeded)
    1 – 1 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
    1/2 cup chopped almonds
    1 small onion, diced
    2 ribs celery, diced
    1 green pepper, diced
    1 tablespoon oil
    1 cup cheddar cheese
    1 tablespoon Romano cheese
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    Oregano, basil and parsley to taste

Grate cheeses and set aside with other ingredients.  Bake squash at 400F approximately 50-60 minutes.  Sauté onion, celery, and pepper in oil; add rest of ingredients.  Stuff squashes, place in covered dish and heat until cheese melts.  A colorful main dish!

Cheddar Squash Bake
   6 cup thinly sliced squash, seasoned, cooked in butter, and drained
    2 slightly beaten egg yolks
    1 cup sour cream
    1 tablespoon flour
    2 stiffly beaten egg whites
    1 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
    6 slices bacon, cooked     1 tablespoon melted butter
    1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

Mix yolks, sour cream, and flour; fold in whites.  Layer 1/2 squash, 1/2 egg mixture, and 1/2 cheese in 12×8 inch baking dish.  Crumble bacon and sprinkle on top; repeat layers.  Mix butter and crumbs and sprinkle over all.  Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes.  Serves 8 to 10.